As composers, we do not have the luxury of the past ages, where most of the compositional questions were answered by the fashion of the day. In Bach's, Mozart's, or Beethoven's times, although each composer stretched the boundaries of their contemporary constraints, they did not have to compete with all of history, all regions, and all genres, as we do today. Having all of history, compositional techniques, genres, regional styles at our fingertips compels us to consider these factors when we write music. Or, inversely, how does the musical content and the chosen medium influence each other. By medium here, I mean, the genre, style, and compositional technique. So, consequently, these factors must be considered as a composer sets out to write an original work. These factors are tools with which to create.
Compositional Technique: the theoretical basis for originating and transforming musical material. Examples: Functional-Tonality, Modalism, Jazz, Serial-music and Twelve-Tone (what I like to call, hard-listening music), Process-music (minimalism), Chance-transformation, Linguistic-generation, Stochastic... and many others. Most music that is popular in the world uses functional tonality. Even music based on modes and Jazz use aspects of this and either extend it or restrain it.
Genre: the historical-social context of the music. Terms like Classical, Latin, Jazz, Hip-Hop, Rock, refer this constraint.
Style: the particular features of one composer or group of composers within a genre.
For every piece I set out to compose, the first question I ask myself is "what am I trying to say?" or "what is the primary challenge in this work?"
When analysing a Piano Sonata of Mozart, one can discern that Mozart asks the listener, "What is tonality? Why do we have expectations? How are these expectations met or missed? etc..." It is at this deep level that Mozart's genius becomes most vigorous.
Taking a cue from this, with each new work, I challenge myself with the questions of compositional technique, genre and style, the way a composer from the past would choose a key. What does this technique, genre, and style represent: acoustically, socially, emotionally, linguistically, morally, spiritually, musically? How can I play them off each other? Compositional technique, genre and style now then become analogous to key or theme in traditional music. Form emerges then from the organic transformations of these aspects.